Pig ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

To love is to anchor, to situate oneself in the world… and so to lose that is to lose a world. Facing such a loss, Robyn Feld has forsaken the trappings of his life and has attempted to sever his grief by cutting every connection to civilization. He retreats until it is only him, his pig, and a sole remaining link to the city, his truffle dealer Amir. When we meet Feld, he is in this state of isolation and stagnation. Although not yet apparent to him at this point, he has not succeeded in subduing grief, but has merely avoided it, postponed it.

Loss is the central concept of Pig, a theme that is inscribed by a twisting triad: capitalism’s dehumanizing system of exchange, mythology’s broad structure of story, and grief’s devastating, personalized layer of emotional stakes.

First, capitalism— the system of abstract values, with its focus on producing and products that give credence not to human relations, but relations of objects… and then not even that, as layers of anchor-less concepts are buoyed up inside their own weightless organization. We see this most prominently in Feld’s brutally honest excoriation of Chef Derek, as he strips his life bare in a few pointed words. “The critics aren’t real, the customers aren’t real because this isn’t real,” Feld says, describing an industry that has hi-jacked Derek’s true passion and transplanted it with a pre-determined trajectory, a system that has slowly shaved away his dream, convincing him that it would be “a terrible investment,” shifting him toward the path of least resistance and most ‘success’— as defined in the abstract, crowd-confirmed way of a capitalistic system, where money rises, and you rise with it, provided you tacitly agree to wake up each day with less and less of yourself remaining, as Feld eloquently, powerfully concludes.

Seeing the truth of this system, Feld has fled from it— or, at least retreated to its very edge— closest to the earth, where things are real, and signifier and signified are still tied together. That is, a truffle refers to a fungus in the ground, and not merely a thing to be exchanged for money, then rated/reviewed to accrue invisible, fleeting prestige. Yet… upon closer inspection his world is still one of vast gaps between signifier and signified, for his pig does not truly signify a pink snout-nosed animal, but rather has become a symbol of companionship itself, of the deep connection to another being that he had lost with his wife.

But then that pig is stolen, prompting an odyssey into the depths of Portland. While the myth of capitalism takes one upward, into abstraction, the myth of Orpheus takes one downward, into substance. The most overt reference to this myth is that Derek’s restaurant is named Eurydice, who was Orpheus’s love, the woman he ventured down into the underworld in order to try and save. While Feld descends into the underworld of Portland searching for his pig, it is the memory of his wife that he ends up discovering, or re-discovering, the old traces that he had tried so hard to distance himself from. In Orpheus’ story, one look back— breaking the rule of the gods— doomed the two lovers, and prevented them from reuniting. In Robyn Feld’s story, he has had not looked back for far too long, and his long-awaited look into the past does not doom him, but finally provides his next step towards acceptance.

There are broader similarities to mythic structure, such as Feld’s crossing of the threshold, when he shoves aside an old shelving unit to expose a hidden staircase… the mysterious entrance to a darker, deeper, world. Here they find an underground Chef fight club, in which Feld must confront his awaiting trial and face symbolic death before venturing further into the underworld. Then, after proceeding through a series of remaining ordeals, the narrative builds to its climax, the confrontation with the father-figure.

The showdown is set-up like a heist: with Amir sent to gather specific items, his father’s mansion looming with threat and power, a sure challenge to the scrappy heroes. But there is no flashy ambush. No eruption of violence. Instead, the film hones in on its triangulated theme, and so— within Feld’s rejection of empty values, the arc of Orpheus’ journey, and the emotional force of grief— the climax becomes the cooking of a meal. For Darius, it is his most memorable meal, and a mere few bite of it crumples his countenance and brings the man to tears. For that is the force of memory. The bittersweet pain of looking back. Of re-experiencing the moment that you have closed away, because it was too much, too soon, and having it flood over you, all brought back with a taste you thought you would never have again.

They say grief comes in waves, and perhaps it is fought in waves too, sometimes more real than others, never truly conquered or subdued, only more deeply understood— and maybe it really is the most substantial victory you can imagine to simply finish listening to a cassette tape, to hear that voice you were unable to before.

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